#RethinkSchool: Waking the Sleeping Giant: Regional and State Leadership to Improve HBCU Competitiveness

The 2018 National HBCU Week Conference, titled “HBCU Competitiveness: Aligning Institutional Missions with America’s Priorities,” focused efforts on how HBCUs help improve regional, state and U.S. competitiveness.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs (Initiative) is intentional about the use of the term “competitiveness.” Words matter. Competitiveness embodies our nation’s best education and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, far too many of the students, people and communities HBCUs principally serve are missing out on top opportunities. As part of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s “Rethink School” tour, reflecting our commitment to the conference theme, I visited three HBCUs with the goal to help elevate the institutions in their regions and states, aiding their perception as providers of unique competitive advantages around which innovative new public-private partnerships and other collaborative efforts should form. In other words, we want to wake the sleeping giant of public and private, regional and state engagement with HBCUs.

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HBCUs: Vital to U.S. Competitiveness

Since 1837, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been educating and preparing, primarily, but far from exclusively, African American students – nearly a quarter of HBCU students are non-Black – to contribute to the American experience. These institutions help fill the nation’s dual pipeline of productivity: providing diversely talented employees and creating employment opportunities. They consistently add both workers and job-creation to their state and local economies.

Despite being historically under-resourced, in 2014, the nation’s 101 accredited HBCUs injected $14.8 billion in direct spending impact to the national economy, adding more than 134,000 jobs, on- and off-campus, according to a recently published landmark study, HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, commissioned by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

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